“Any Old Time”
Composed and arranged by Artie Shaw.
Recorded by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra for RCA Bluebird on July 24, 1938 in New York.
Artie Shaw, clarinet, directing: John Best, first trumpet; Chuck Peterson and Claude Bowen, trumpets; George Arus, first trombone; Harry Rodgers and Ted Vesely, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Hank Freeman, alto saxophone; Tony Pastor and Ronnie Perry, tenor saxophones; Les Burness, piano: Al Avola, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Cliff Leeman, drums; Billie Holiday, vocal.
The story: The story of how Billie Holiday came to join Artie Shaw’s band in early 1938 ( actually he was known as Art Shaw then), and her tenure with that band, which lasted until late 1938, was been told in part and in rather disjointed fashion in snippets, by both Artie Shaw and Billie Holiday. I will try in this post to create a factual narrative of what happened, when it happened, and insofar as possible, why it happened.
I have long been fascinated by the confluence of these two swing era legends, which happened long before either of them were legendary, against a background of virulent racism and Jim Crow in the 1930s in the USA. Add to that the facts that Billie, in addition to being very talented, was a very beautiful young woman in a time when pernicious sexism was the order of the day. The adjective young is very significant. When the Shaw-Holiday story began to unfold in March of 1938, Artie was 27 years old, and Billie was 22. (At right: Art Shaw and Billie Holiday in the summer of 1938 somewhere on the road, fooling around.)
Despite the fact that both of them were worldly because of the circumstances of their lives, they were still young, and in many ways, especially in the ways of show business as it then existed, relatively inexperienced. We tend to look at historical figures through that very distorting mechanism, the retrospectoscope, which projects into their early lives things we have learned about them over their whole lives. Indeed, we often project into their lives things that have happened after their deaths. That always distorts the true historical picture.
The actual starting point of the Shaw-Holiday musical relationship was probably the Vocalion recording date of July 10, 1936, the first for Billie as a leader and as the artist whose name was printed on the record label. That recording session was a milestone in Billie Holiday’s career, but it was just another recording date for Art Shaw, who was then a free-lance musician in Manhattan’s recording and radio studios. He was also in the process of organizing his first band, the one built around a string quartet. It was later asserted (1) that Shaw suggested to Billie at that time that she should join his incipient band. If this happened, I’m sure Billie laughed it off: she was not likely to join a band that didn’t even exist yet, led by someone she really didn’t know.
Fast-forward to early March of 1938. Art Shaw’s string quartet band had failed, but he tried again starting in March of 1937 with an orthodox five brass, four saxophones, four rhythm band, with a girl singer, and of course his featured clarinet. The slog through 1937 and into 1938 with this new band had been grueling. Almost non-stop one-night stands, endless traveling, a recording contract with Brunswick that produced some fair to good records, but nevertheless was terminated at the end of 1937. (Above left: Art Shaw in Boston in the spring of 1938. This photo is a still from a home movie possibly taken by Shaw’s bassist, Sid Weiss.)
Somehow, Shaw had been guided into the realm of the Boston-based band bookers Si and Charlie Shribman. I suspect that the Shribmans simply listened to the Shaw band and realized immediately that despite its lack of commercial success, it was a good, musical band, and that Shaw’s clarinet solos were in terms of quality, comparable with those of Benny Goodman. Art was also unquestionably a good level-headed bandleader who ran a most efficient musical organization. This was apparent to anyone who watched Shaw rehearse his band, including the Shribman brothers. He was an inspired leader who communicated directly and clearly what he wanted from his musicians, and was very successful in getting excellent musical results without insulting, degrading or browbeating his sidemen. Shaw’s musicians respected his musicianship and leadership, even if they didn’t get along with him personally. He had a prickly personality, at times.
The business relationship that began in the spring of 1938 between Art Shaw and Si Shribman, from Shaw’s standpoint, had Shribman loaning money to Shaw to cover any weekly shortfalls between the band’s earnings and its operating expenses, in exchange for Shribman booking the Shaw band on a subcontractor basis for Shaw’s overall booking agent, Rockwell-O’Keefe/General Artists Corportion (GAC). Presumably, this allowed Shribman to earn commissions (split with GAC) for booking the Shaw band. Later, Shribman claimed that he was buying pieces of the band with the money he advanced to Shaw. By then, Shaw was making enough money to effect a cash settlement with Shribman to eliminate his claims.
Meanwhile, the Shaw band was getting better musically by the day. Although this band, like most Shaw bands, had only a small amount of personnel turnover, there was some, especially in the trumpet section. The very important first trumpet chair in Shaw’s band was held initially by John Best, who would become one of the truly great trumpeters to emerge from the swing era. Best was not only a fine lead trumpeter, he was also a very capable jazz soloist. He and Art had a disagreement in September of 1937, and as a result, Best quit. Shaw had to scramble to fill the first trumpet chair for an important recording date on September 17, ultimately securing the services temporarily of Charlie Spivak. Shortly after this, trumpeter Chuck Peterson, another sterling player, joined the Shaw band, with the jazz trumpeter Max Kaminsky, who came in at about the same time, and split the first trumpet book with Peterson. The girl singer Shaw used then was Anita (or Nita) Bradley.
After Shaw’s contract with Brunswick Records terminated at the end of 1937, there was a lean period lasting until they opened at the Roseland-State Ballroom in Boston on March 15, 1938. Fortunately, Shaw’s management secured for him and his band a recording date for Thesaurus Transcription Service on February 15, 1938. Twenty tunes were recorded on that date, and in addition to providing a good snapshot of the band’s repertoire and musical capabilities then, it provided eating money for Shaw and his band. One of the tunes recorded at that date was an original composed and arranged by Art, “Any Old Time,” sung by Anita Bradley. Here is that recording:
“Any Old Time”
Composed and arranged by Art Shaw.
Recorded by Art Shaw and His Orchestra (identified as “The Rhythm Makers”) for Thesaurus on February 15, 1938 in New York.
Art Shaw, clarinet, directing: Max Kaminsky, first trumpet, Chuck Peterson and Norman Ayers, trumpets; George Arus and Harry Rodgers, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Hank Freeman, alto saxophone; Tony Pastor and Fred Petry, tenor saxophones; Les Burness, piano; Al Avola, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Cliff Leeman, drums; Anita Bradley, vocal.
While Shaw languished through the first two and a half months of 1938, Billie Holiday, who had been working successfully and happily with Count Basie’s relatively new and struggling band for almost a year, was now disenchanted. The story behind that is complicated, and involved gadfly John Hammond, who at that time was playing Pygmalion with Billie. My opinion, based on a good bit of research, is that Billie, though happy with the music of the Basie band, and her role in that band as their girl singer, had concluded that whatever professional growth she sought by joining Basie, had by early 1938, been achieved. She simply wanted to move on, and move her career forward in other ways. She left the Basie band after they completed a one-week engagement at Harlem’s Apollo Theater on March 3, 1938.
At the same time, Art Shaw was struggling to keep his band together. Despite the fact that he had worked without letup to develop the music and performance quality of his band since the previous March, and the band was getting better and pleasing audiences, the public at large was oblivious to what was then billed as Art Shaw and His New Music. The public didn’t even know what Art Shaw’s old music was, nor did they care to find out. Shaw needed something to differentiate his band from the many other good but fungible dance bands then on the scene. He was undoubtedly aware of the large amount of publicity Benny Goodman had garnered the previous year by adding two African-American musicians, first pianist Teddy Wilson, and then vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, to his presentation. In the wake of Billie Holiday’s departure from the Count Basie band, he decided, probably with the concurrence of his management team at Rockwell-O’Keefe, that he would go after her.
Now he had a band, and it was a good band, and he could pay her more (with borrowed money, at least in part) than Basie had been paying her. An approach was made, undoubtedly involving Billie’s personal manager, the assertive vulgarian Joe Glaser (whose most successful client was Louis Armstrong). It appears that Billie Holiday’s first appearance with the Shaw band, possibly a try-out, took place on Wednesday March 9, 1938. She was unbilled, and sang a couple of numbers with the Shaw ensemble at an event called the “Harvest Moon Ball,” at Madison Square Garden. Audience reaction was favorable, and the Shaw sidemen were thrilled. The Shaw organization decided to hire Billie. The Rockwell-O’Keefe publicity machine then went into high gear and articles began to appear in publications across the nation announcing Billie Holiday’s joining the Art Shaw band, with the race angle being played up. The one below is from the March 1937 issue of Down Beat.
Billie Holiday left Manhattan on March 12, 1938, supposedly riding with Art Shaw in his car for the drive to Boston, where the Shaw band was to open on Tuesday March 15 at Roseland-State Ballroom.
The plan devised by Shaw’s management at Rockwell-O’Keefe and the Shribman brothers was that the Shaw band would use Boston’s Roseland-State Ballroom (2) as its home base for about three months. They actually performed at that venue only on Tuesday and Saturday nights each week, broadcasting over the full, nationwide CBS radio network originating at WEEI Boston, on Tuesday nights at midnight. On the other nights, they played at various ballrooms throughout New England that were either owned by or had an ongoing business relationship with the Shribmans.
As Billie and the musicians in the Shaw band, Art Included, began to adjust to each other, the overall quality of the music they made together went up. They stimulated and inspired each other. The band began to swing harder than it ever had before. Although it is unclear precisely how Billie was presented throughout the evening by Shaw, it does seem that she may have been used as a “special attraction,” singing just a few special songs each evening. (Below, Art Shaw and Billie Holiday at Roseland-State Ballroom, Boston, spring 1938.)
Through at least some of the Roseland-State engagement (which lasted until mid-June), Shaw also presented another girl singer, Anita (or Nita) Bradley, who had been Billie’s predecessor as the female vocalist with the Shaw band. Ms. Bradley was likely used to sing the current pop tunes that were an essential part of any successful dance band’s presentation.
However Billie was being presented, she was creating both musical and publicity excitement for Art Shaw, his band and their fans. Here is a bit of an article that appeared in the May 1938 edition of Metronome magazine: “The addition of Billie Holiday to (Art) Shaw’s band has put this outfit in top brackets. Band is plenty solid with leader Shaw stealing the show with his clarinet work. ‘Wee’ Maxie Kaminsky, Tony Pastor and Les Burness are the most consistent performers in the band. Drummer Cliff Leeman, the nucleus of a very solid rhythm section, is getting plenty of attention with his wild man act.” (This last comment seems to suggest that Leeman was adding histrionics to his drumming, in the then very popular Gene Krupa mode.)
I was fortunate enough to meet Max Kaminsky in 1983 on a bitterly cold December night. He was playing with a small group that included clarinetist Clarence Hutchenrider in a club on West 54th Street in Manhattan. The place was almost empty, and he was only too happy to sit down with me and talk about his career, especially his time with Artie Shaw. I found Kaminsky to be an intelligent and articulate fellow. We discussed in detail his time with Shaw in 1938, 1941, and finally in 1942-1943, as a part of Shaw’s Navy band. At times, he seemed to give himself credit for things that I suspect he really didn’t deserve the credit for. I will not repeat those assertions here, but I will quote from his book, Max Kaminsky …My Life in Jazz. (He sold me a copy that night, and autographed it.) That will provide some information regarding what was happening in the Shaw band in Boston (Kaminsky’s home town) in the spring of 1938. (Max Kaminsky shown at right – 1938.)
“Everything went along fine and dandy for the first few months with Shaw’s band. Artie was always so nice to me. He’d come over to my house for dinner and be charming and gracious to my mother. Afterward, we would walk in the park (and talk). My ego blossomed like a rose under Artie’s attention.” (3) Shaw was so kind and gracious that Kaminsky began to think of himself as Art’s assistant leader, and whatever Max was doing in that role was beneficial to the band, and not resented by the band members.
Of course, anyone familiar with Artie Shaw’s modus operandi in dealing with other human beings will recognize this. Shaw could be the epitome of charm, when he thought it might benefit him to do so. But inevitably, usually when he concluded that he had received out of a relationship what he had sought, the boom was lowered, and the relationship ended, at least temporarily. Kaminsky continued: “We began to grate on each other’s nerves ..until finally Artie called a meeting of the whole band and said to the guys ‘I want you to know that this is not Maxie’s band – It is MY band! I was shocked and humiliated. …I felt that Artie had turned on me and wanted to push me out.” (3) In short order, Kaminsky quit, and Shaw charmed John Best into rejoining his band.
A map showing the location of the Roseland-State Ballroom, 15 Burbank Street, Boston.
The Shaw band finished its engagement at the Roseland-State Ballroom in mid-June. Their stay there had been tremendously successful. Not only were they now playing to turn-away crowds everywhere they performed, but the music and name of Art Shaw was also known across the nation as a result on the regular Tuesday night CBS network radio broadcasts emanating from Boston.
Curiously, after the Roseland-State engagement, Shaw’s management at Rockwell-O’Keefe did not attempt to put him and his band into a large theater for a week or split-week to earn some much-needed cash in a short period of time. Instead, the Shavians were sent on a series of mostly one-night dance engagements throughout the eastern U.S. and into Canada. Shaw was now earning enough money to offset his weekly expenses, but he had incurred a substantial debt to Si Shribman during the three-month build-up when the Shaw band worked in Boston and New England. (Above: Art Shaw and his band at Hamid’s Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, New Jersey – July 9, 1938. Billie Holiday is to Shaw’s right.)
Here is a bit of information about what Shaw and his band were doing in the early summer of 1938: “July 1, 1938 (Friday) Gwynn Oak Park Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore swing-gates have had an elegant time these past few weeks at the new Gwynn Oak Park Ballroom. Art Shaw and ork were right in the groove when they jived out plenty of swing. The crowd nearly went wild when Billie Holliday, the ork’s colored canary, sang ‘You Go To My Head.’ Both she and Art were swarmed with alligator autographers at the intermission. Art and his liquorice stick with several other members of the ork held about seven or eight ten-minute jam sessions. The crowd went so haywire that Gwynn Oak’s managers brought Jimmy Dorsey to the ballroom for another swing session.”(4) (At right: Billie Holiday enjoys a bit of time at the beach during the summer of 1938.)
More one-nighters followed, though the band had at least one week-long engagement in mid-July. That engagement, at Lakeside Casino in Hartford, Connecticut ended on Saturday night, July 23, 1938. The next day, the Shaw band made history.
The music: On July 24, 1938, Art Shaw and his band, with vocalist Billie Holiday, gathered at Victor’s recording studio #2, located at 155 East 24th Street in Manhattan at 2:00 p.m. Shaw had been without a commercial recording contract since the end of 1937. In the interim between then and July 24, the Shaw band had matured greatly as a performing unit, took on vocalist Billie Holiday, who enhanced the band’s music and popularity, and had been broadcast regularly across the nation on the CBS radio network. When one listens to the six tunes the Shaw band recorded that afternoon, one can hear the band happening, and Billie Holiday was a part of that, whether she was singing or not.(Shaw’s blockbuster hit recording of “Begin the Beguine” was also made at this recording session.)
Billie’s singing here is as always very personal. The sound of her voice, and the utter relaxation in her phrasing cause the band to phrase in less a vertical way, and more in a flowing, horizontal way. That of course is the essence of swing.
This is a dance band performance of a tune that Artie had written in late 1937 or early 1938. The objective of the arrangement and performance was to sell the song. Shaw wanted to promote this song so that it might catch on, and possibly become a hit. That never happened because the Thesaurus recording did not in any way identify Shaw or his band, and the great Bluebird recording with Billie Holiday was soon withdrawn from the market because Ms. Holiday continued to be under contract with Brunswick Records during her tenure with Shaw, and indeed continued recording for Brunswick while she was with Shaw.(5) Brunswick threatened Shaw and Bluebird with legal action if the record was not withdrawn, and Billie was prohibited from recording with Shaw for the remainder of her time with the Shaw band, which turned out to be another four months after the Bluebird recording was made. This legal snafu resulted in no more recordings being made by the very exciting Shaw-Holiday combination.
(NOTE: Swingandbeyond.com will soon present the story of what might have happened in the Shaw-Holiday collaboration if legal and societal obstacles hadn’t seriously undermined it.)
The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
Many of the details about Billie Holiday’s association with Artie Shaw from March until July of 1938 were gleaned from Lady Day’s Diary …the Life of Billie Holiday 1937-1959 by Ken Vail.
(1) Billie’s Blues …The Billie Holiday Story – 1933-1959 by John Chilton (1975) 36.
(2) One of the adolescents who shined shoes in the basement to the Roseland-State Ballroom was 13 year-old Malcolm Little. He later became known as Malcolm X. The Roseland State Ballroom was on Massachusetts Avenue, across from the Christian Science Center’s Mother Church. The stretch of Mass. Ave. between Huntington and Columbus was, by the late ’40s, Boston’s answer to 52nd Street in Manhattan with not only the Roseland, but the Savoy Café, the Hi-Hat, Wally’s, and a handful of smaller clubs.
(3) My Life in Jazz by Max Kaminsky and V.E.Hughes, (1963) 100-101.
(4) Down Beat, August 1938, p. 26
(5) Indeed, Shaw continued to try to promote “Any Old Time,” playing it on gigs and making yet a third recording of it featuring vocalist Helen Forrest on March 12, 1939.
Here are links to more recordings made by the Shaw band while Billie Holiday was with them.